Four years ago, Obama was a first-term senator when he spent part of the 2008 summer traveling to war zones, the Middle East and several European countries. The high-profile trip intended to burnish his foreign policy credentials culminated with a speech to hundreds of thousands of people outside the Victory Column in Berlin. The rock-star reception he received was intense. So was the wall-to-wall media coverage back home.
"The American people knew exactly where Barack Obama stood on all the major foreign policy issues of the day" after his trip, former Obama adviser Robert Gibbs said. "The question I think for Governor Romney is whether this trip will be similarly substantive, and live up to the bar that was set in 2008, or whether this is one long photo-op and fundraising tour."
Romney's campaign dismisses any comparison, saying Romney's goal is to listen and not give speeches like Obama's Berlin address.
"This trip is an opportunity for the governor to listen and learn, to visit countries that share common values, common interests," said Lanhee Chen, Romney's policy director.
Romney, to be sure, is slated to give a speech in Poland and perhaps one in Israel. But even Republican allies say it's impossible that Romney will generate nearly as much interest as Obama did. Romney also plans a series of interviews while overseas.
There were hiccups before Romney arrived Wednesday in London.
Earlier this week in California, Romney met with Australia's foreign minister, Bob Carr, and later told donors that Carr sees an "America in decline." A day later, the Australians issued a statement clarifying Carr's comments and insisting that he did not intend to criticize the U.S.
Romney also has faced criticism in the Jewish press ahead of his Israel trip for scheduling a fundraiser on Tisha B'Av, a Jewish fasting day that commemorates the destruction of two temples in Jerusalem. Advisers to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intervened and insisted the timing of the fundraiser was Netanyahu's decision. Romney aides say the candidate has accepted an invitation to break the fast at a traditional Jewish meal with Netanyahu and his wife.
And as Romney flew to London, the Daily Telegraph newspaper published a story quoting an unnamed campaign adviser saying Romney believes the U.S. relationship with Britain is special because of shared "Anglo Saxon heritage" and that the White House doesn't appreciate that shared history.
Romney quickly distanced himself from any such view. "I don't agree with whoever that advisor might be," Romney told NBC News. "But do agree that we have a very common bond between ourselves and Great Britain."
Obama dispatched Vice President Joe Biden and top strategist David Axelrod to criticize Romney.
Said Biden: "The comments reported this morning are a disturbing start to a trip designed to demonstrate Governor Romney's readiness to represent the United States on the world's stage."
Romney faces more challenges as he meets with leaders in Britain and Poland and particularly Israel, where he'll face questions about how he would handle one of America' s most pressing national security concerns: preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
Romney will meet with Netanyahu and with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, though he won't spend time with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Romney advisers are mum on whether he plans to go to the West Bank to meet Fayyad or whether he will hold the meeting in Israel, a decision that could be viewed as a snub to the Palestinian Authority.
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